When the 17th edition of the Dubai Marathon takes place this coming weekend, the world’s richest race will spark great memories for Jos Hermens, manager of Haile Gebrselassie, the legendary Ethiopian runner who claimed three historic back-to-back victories in the city from 2008-2010.
Hermens, a former middle-distance Dutch athlete who broke the world one-hour run record in 1976, coached arguably the most recognised runner for nearly two decades and still manages Gebrselassie as director and founder of Global Sports Communication.
Although Haile brought the curtain down on his illustrious competitive career in May 2015 after the Great Manchester Run, Hermens’ interest in the January 20 race on UAE soil remains as strong as ever.
He has 12 athletes, including multiple Olympic champion and event headliner Kenenisa Bekele, under his management ranks. The Dutchman’s eye for talent is unquestionable, illustrated by the fact he first spotted Gebrselassie’s back in 1991 when he was just an unknown 18-year-old.
“Dubai is always an extra special race that Haile and I always look forward too. He always enjoys coming back in an ambassadorial role now, but such is the competitor that he is, I think when he looks back on his record there, he’d have hoped to have done even better than he did,” the 67-year-old told Sport360 from his base in Holland.
Statistically, Dubai is the fourth-fastest course in the world when the average finishing time of the men’s top 10 is considered (2:04:40), while it’s third for the women (2:20:05). Berlin, London and Chicago are all wedged into the top four along with the Emirate.
Hermens knows a thing or two about putting on a race, as his communications company organises January’s Mumbai Marathon, road races in Amsterdam and Hamburg, and the New Delhi half marathon, among others.
He is predicting a speedy battle to the finish line again on Friday, as runners saunter down Jumeirah Beach Road, past both the Burj Al Arab and Madinat Jumeirah, and then towards the marathon finale just before Dubai Police Academy.
His client, Bekele, who stormed to victory in the Berlin Marathon last September crossing the finish line in 2:03:03, just six seconds short of Dennis Kimetto’s world record (2:02:57) – is undoubtedly one of the favourites.
Dubai certainly represents unfinished business for the 34-year-old after injury forced him to pull up during his debut back in 2015.
“Dubai always attracts such a competitive field because it’s quick and it’s the best way to start the season for many athletes.
“Our athletes are expecting a very good race again and I think the course record (Ethiopia’s Tesfaye Abera 2:04:24 in 2016) could go. Sub-2.04 should be possible and it will boil down to tactics on the day.
“When the pacemakers drop out, runners start to implement their plans and between the 32-40km mark, there will be a good fight out there. The final 10km will be a real dual and it’s about who can work it well.”
Away from the elite athletes, more than 30,000 runners are expected to compete across the full marathon distance, 10km event and 4km fun run race.
Held under the patronage of HH Sheikh Hamdan bin Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Crown Prince of Dubai, and supported by the Dubai Sports Council, the Dubai Marathon, which is in its 13th successive year with title sponsor Standard Chartered Bank, continues to expand.
“It’s been fantastic to see the growth of sport in the Middle East and the passion for running too,” said Hermens.
“We could actually do with more races, particularly 10kms and half-marathons in the Gulf, and really make the most of the cooler winter climate.
“It’s perfect weather, fast conditions and it allows athletes the chance to run and compete outside of the traditional European athletics circuit.”
From runner to coach to manager, few can attest to having had such a varied career in athletics
And pushed on what is his most memorable moment from working with leading lights of the sport on the track, there was only one answer.
In 2000, at the Sydney Olympics, Gebrselassie became the third man in history to successfully defend a 10,000m title (after Emil Zatopek and Lasse Viren).
It was a memorable race that came down to the wire. It was Haile vs Kenya’s Paul Tergat in one of the Games’ best climaxes, with the Ethiopian finishing just 0.009 seconds off his rival in an incredible finish that was actually closer than the men’s 100m final.
“There have been many, many highlights but the Sydney race stands out, with the dramatic ending, the emotion and the fact Haile was carrying an injury. It’s been a special journey and a pleasure to work with him.”
Gebrselassie has hailed Hermens, who was a 10,000m finalist at the 1976 Olympic Games, as a ‘father figure’ with the way he nurtured the running hero’s career.
And for the respected athletics manager, the Nijmegen-born man is very proud of what running’s most well-known face has achieved in his career after racing.
“Haile has set a big example and I’m very proud that he’s now Ethiopian Athletics Federation president. He’s having a big influence is his country, setting a great example to inspire young people and is doing very good things. He has many businesses and more than 2,000 people working for him.”
Away from the Dubai track, Hermens believes 2017 is a big year for athletics to rebuild its reputation following last year’s doping scandal involving Russian athletes and their blanket ban from the Rio 2016 Olympics.
IAAF president Sebastian Coe attended Global Sports Communication’s 30th anniversary in the Netherlands in April 2016 and its founder is confident the British running great can help the sport get back on track.
“I am in full support of Sebastian Coe – I think he is the best person to clean up our sport, accept the challenges and put more rules and regulations in place.
“Athletics needs more time with the Russian situation but I think we are getting back to where we need to be and the future is a lot brighter than it was this time last year.”
Know more about Sport360 Application